I know that the NICU or Special Care unit was probably not where you expected to be right now. I know that you should still be enjoying the last few weeks or months of your pregnancy, having time to pick out baby names, shop for adorable newborn essentials and set up your baby’s room. But instead your tiny baby is in the NICU and the expectations that come with Christmas can make life even harder.
Traditionally the holidays are a big deal, often it’s that one time a year when extended families finally have the chance to get together. While everyone else is excitedly organising their celebrations, menus and gifts for Christmas, you’re spending long hours at your baby’s bedside - having your baby in intensive care changes everything and whatever you may have been planning for the holidays probably seems irrelevant now.
Trust me, if the thought of this Christmas is making you feel stressed, overwhelmed and even disappointed, you’re not the first to be feeling this way. There’s a whole rollercoaster of emotions when your baby is born early, and grieving for the loss of your future plans is normal too. It’s not an obvious grief (like that comes with the passing of a loved one), but it IS a loss – all of a sudden the remainder of your pregnancy, your birth plan, and the possibility of bringing home a healthy full-term baby have been taken from you, along with the hopes you had for your family. A huge part of your healing process is working through the losses that come with premature birth, accepting the changes and adjusting to this new future, so when it comes to Christmas it’s really important that you do what feels right for you. Go and join in with your family and friends if you want to, and don’t feel guilty for taking a break from the hospital! If you’d prefer to spend the day with your baby nobody should judge you for completely skipping this Christmas.
Here’s 10 ideas for finding some balance if you’re in the NICU over the holiday season:
1. If you don’t want to be far from your baby then invite close family members or friends to visit in the days around Christmas. Keep in mind most units have restrictions of one or two people at baby’s bedside, and in some cases no visitors are allowed at all. Meeting at a nearby café could be a good option, giving you a short break and the chance to have some decent food!
2. Is decorating is your thing? If so, go for it! Obviously don’t go sticking 3 metres of tinsel or fairy lights to the inside of the incubator, but most hospitals are happy for you to bring in a few special decorations like those cute mini stockings. For older babies black and white images taped to the side of their cot gives them a visual interest to focus on – look for simple Christmas trees, reindeer, or collection of star shapes.
3. Take photos. It may not be the usual ‘First Christmas’ photo with Santa or at home, but please get out your camera and capture it anyway! If baby can wear clothes then perhaps choose a tiny outfit or cute hat in festive colours, or add “My First Christmas” milestone card - you can print a free one here. Remember to ask your nurse to take a family photo of you all together.
4. Create memories to look back on. Along with your photos, baby’s hand or footprints are incredible to have and your nurses are usually well practiced at getting a clear print. BabyINK print kits are great for this!
5. Writing is probably the best way to fill in time during those long days at the hospital. If you normally send Christmas cards then this year they can double as a message of thanks for friends and family that have been supporting you. Most NICU parents have a diary or journal, so remember to make a note of how your baby is doing over the holidays, their achievements and how much they are growing.
6. Bring in a favourite Christmas book to read to your baby. It could become a new family tradition (our kids know “The Night before Christmas” by heart!), plus studies show that reading and singing to your baby helps with bonding and baby’s brain development.
7. If you have older children try to include them where you can. Perhaps they could choose a Christmas story, shop for a little present or draw a picture that can be taken to the hospital. Siblings often aren’t allowed to visit but you can always take photos or a video of baby and their bed space to show them. Receiving a gift from their new little brother or sister is always a good plan too! When it comes to Christmas Day your kids are going to be super excited just like every other year - this is one of those times where you feel completely torn and don’t want to disappoint anyone by not being around. Keep in mind that your baby doesn’t have any clue what day it is (and while you’re not in NICU they have the best babysitters ever to care for them!), so it’s ok to spend some time away from the hospital.
8. Make a wishlist. This can cover all sorts of things, is there anything you need, practical gifts your friends and family can organise or pick up for you? Include your hopes for your baby too - have you had a kangaroo cuddle yet, given baby a bath, is there something you’d like to understand better or are you worried about an upcoming procedure? Share these last ones with your baby’s nurse and they’ll do their best to make Christmas a little easier.
9. Take time for yourself. This is one of the most important things while your baby is in intensive care. It’s easy to get run down from the stress and lack of sleep but you need to prioritise your own wellbeing so you can care for your little one. Have an afternoon nap, get out for a walk, whatever you can to keep yourself healthy.
10. Remember you are strong and you will make it through this. Find support in other NICU parents if you haven’t already - there’s a huge community that have been through it too, and sometimes it helps to let it all out to people who understand how you feel!
Above everything else, no matter how you spend your Christmas, your baby is the greatest gift of all ♡
Posted: Saturday 1 December 2018